postone_brennerarrighiharvey2006.pdf - Theorizing the Contemporary World Robert Brenner Giovanni Arrighi David Harvey Moishe Postone(to appear in Rob

postone_brennerarrighiharvey2006.pdf - Theorizing the...

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1 Theorizing the Contemporary World: Robert Brenner, Giovanni Arrighi, David Harvey Moishe Postone (to appear in Rob Albritton, Bob Jessop, Richard Westra (eds,), Political Economy of the Present and Possible Global Future(s), Anthem Press)
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2 Theorizing the Contemporary World: Robert Brenner, Giovanni Arrighi, David Harvey Moishe Postone It is widely recognized that the past three decades mark a significant break with the social, political, economic, and cultural order that characterized the decades following the Second World War. Basic changes include the weakening and transformation of welfare states in the capitalist West, the collapse or fundamental metamorphosis of bureaucratic party-states in the communist East, and the undermining of developmental states in what had been called the Third World. More generally, recent decades have seen the weakening of national, state-centered economic sovereignty and the emergence and consolidation of a neo-liberal global order. Social, political, and cultural life have become increasingly global, on the one hand; on the other hand, they have become increasingly decentered and fragmented. These changes have occurred against the background of a lengthy period of stagnation and crisis: since the early 1970s, the growth of real wages has decreased dramatically, real wages have remained generally flat, profit rates have stagnated, and labor productivity rates have declined. Yet these crisis phenomena have not led to a resurgence of working class movements. On the contrary, the past decades have seen the decline of classical labor movements and the rise of new social movements, often characterized by the politics of identity, including nationalist movements, movements of
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3 sexual politics, and various forms of religious “fundamentalism.” Trying to come to terms with the large-scale transformations of the past three decades, then, entails addressing not only the long-term economic downturn since the early 1970s, but also important changes in the character of social and cultural life. It is against the background of this problematic that I wish to discuss three very important works -- by Robert Brenner, Giovanni Arrighi, and David Harvey 1 -- that attempt to grapple with current transformations. This paper is intended as preliminary. It does not attempt to provide a definitive critical analysis of these three authors’ works, but rather approaches specific works by these authors on a meta-theoretical level, focusing on their theoretical assumptions, in order to problematize the nature and characteristics of an adequate critical theory of capitalism today. Why a theory of capitalism – or better – a theory of capital? Let me begin with a point that Harvey and others have made in considering the period of postwar prosperity: During the period 1949-1973, Western states engineered stable economic growth and living standards similarly -- through a mix of welfare statism, Keynesian management, and control of wage relations -- although very different political parties were in power.
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